High-quality SEO continues to represent one of most cost-effective marketing methods ever conceived. So why don't companies spend as much on SEO as they do on PPC? Looking at data from a recent Forrester report, companies spent more than five times more on PPC as compared to SEO in 2009.
And yet (depending on the query), up to 80 percent of the clicks on a typical Google SERP are in the non-paid listings. That makes SEO a pretty essential online marketing channel. But how do you leverage it? Where do you even start?
Unfortunately, much of SEO has become about optimizing things like title tags, and performing mostly trivial page optimizations that come from looking at Web sites through a cardboard tube. There is a distinct lack of strategic vision out there.
Sure, it's always important to get the basics of SEO right. And that often means picking the low-hanging fruit of on-page optimizations, including title tags.
But the value of that work has been depreciating over the last few years. It's no longer always providing a competitive advantage -- sometimes it's just catching you up to the majority of Web sites already out there.
Today, the opportunity in SEO is (usually) less in these basic optimizations and technical fixes, and more about creating scalable, high-impact ideas and spreading them effectively. This takes strategy, vision, creativity, and deep knowledge of search, yet few "SEOs" can honestly say they possess all of these traits.
We all know the basics of optimizing a Web site according to best practices. What we don't know -- what so few truly know -- is how to move the needle on natural search traffic in ways outside the norm. This talent belongs to a few bright souls only, and is worth millions of dollars in terms of the revenue it can bring to a company.
SEO can be life changing for a company. Yet, too often it's about changing a Web site's trivial content elements without consideration for the overarching strategy and traffic lift everyone is really looking for. So what can we do about that?
No, We Don't Want Your Title Tag Recommendations
Working on large sites is a unique experience, with unique challenges and issues. Normally, we don't work page by page, although there are always exceptions. We work template by template, site by site, and section by section. We work site-wide.
While a surprising amount of agencies charge "by the page" (which is laughable), there isn't much value in optimizing N number of pages by hand. There's no scale. And there's no overarching relationship between a guaranteed number of optimized pages and a coherent SEO strategy.
SEO is hard. Coming up with ideas that can push free search traffic requires creativity, high-quality resources, and a little bit of magic. And those things aren't easy to come by. They also aren't cheap. Valuable SEO is a major investment.
It's important to step away from the shackles of best practices and instead focus on initiatives that give you a strategic competitive advantage. But even beyond that, wider adoption of SEO requires a more creative approach, a more valuable approach. Here are a few examples areas to improve on:
- Technical SEO audits should include problems that should be repaired, as well as an opportunity assessment. We don't just want to fix things. We want to also grow market share in new directions.
- Classic on-page SEO elements should be regarded as a given. Don't engage with an SEO partner that will only give you title tags and meta data, for example. Ask them what the next step is.
- Place emphasis on things impacting the user experience. Site speed, ease of use, accessibility, and features and functions that are fun to use and easy to link to should be of primary focus.
- Link building should focus on creating valuable, influential, and unique contributions for the Web, rather than securing links from "high PageRank sites."
- A valuable SEO partner should bring thought leadership in the form of regular meetings and training, SEO style guides, and frameworks, intranet documentation and the like. A company should have SEO built into its fabric. And the C-level executives need to be aware of major SEO initiatives, and results of previous and ongoing work.
Quality SEO that generates traffic and revenue will never be easy to find. But by improving in areas like the above, and building a more strategic view of SEO in general, we can evolve the model and encourage more widespread adoption. Once companies see what SEO can bring, they will become believers.
It's all in the details of course, but the above is a recipe for big ideas that can yield big results.